The school bus screeches to a stop, and my daughters race to the house, replete with worksheets, homework and recess stories. I'm overwhelmed as we juggle piano practice, tennis lessons and homework. And the kids are just as frustrated by my insistence to "get their work done" as I'm exasperated at their desire to just play. By bedtime, I'm exhausted. I regret all my nagging and wonder if I even began a meaningful conversation with my girls during our time together.
Like most parents, I want to be involved in my kids' education, to help them reach their potential, while still being a blessing in their lives. I'm learning that it takes a daily effort to balance the craziness of school life and my relationship with my children. Here are a few strategies that can help you do the same:
Routine is a large part of our kids' day at school, and there's no reason why kids can't continue the pattern at home. Expect your kids to empty lunch boxes, put away their coats and pick out a healthy snack. Create easy-to-enforce consequences to cement your routines. Doing things the same way every day helps create a sense of predictability and security.
Psychologist Kevin Leman suggests that parents build routines on a foundation of clarity and consistency, expecting kids to manage some responsibilities that parents have become accustomed to doing. "If you give kids responsibility and ownership and expect them to do their part, more often than not, they will," Leman says.
A dedicated homework station can reduce stress and save time. Locate your station away from the hub of family activity, but within range of a parent if kids need help staying on task. Mom Marilyn Johnson creates study carrels for her kids from tri-fold boards often used for science-fair presentations. The insides are filled with study tips and reminders, pockets for basic supplies and flash cards, and words of encouragement. When homework is done, the carrels are folded and stored, so the table can be reclaimed for family activity.
Help older children establish their own organization system, including monthly calendars and to-do lists. Avoid time waste by putting computers in an area where you can supervise research.
Make cleanup a part of every homework session. Lori Tharp color-codes all her kids' school supplies, from backpacks and book covers to subject folders and writing supplies. Everything red goes to one child; the blue supplies go to the other.
Make it a team effort
Reduce after-school stress by enlisting the help of others. Ask older siblings to help little ones with spelling words, and hold off on big projects until there are two parents home.
Are grandparents or other family members nearby? Wesley Sharpe, author of The ABCs of School Success, says that when you involve grandparents in your child's academics, they become "gentle teachers of the way life should be," passing on a slice of wisdom with each concept they explain.
Consider asking a friendly neighbor or mentor from church to share what he or she knows about a particular subject with your child. Within your circle of friends and family, look for strengths and interests that intersect with what your child is learning in the classroom. You'll bring variety to the tediousness of schoolwork, and you'll make learning more relevant.
Much of the chaos in the after-school hours is caused by our children's lack of motivation: They dislike math homework or have an aversion to piano practice. Validate your child's feelings, but maintain minimum expectations. Even if your daughter may never be a mathematician, she can still fulfill school requirements and be competent in the topic.
School is where perseverance and the ability to learn new things are cultivated. Learning expert Cynthia Tobias says it's important for kids to recognize that school is a training ground for the real world, a place where they must do unpleasant things in order to earn the things they want—like permission to go on a field trip or qualification for a favorite sport. Strive to connect schoolwork to life's rewards as much as you can, even if a child can't yet see the long-term benefits of academic success. Elizabeth Parker puts a simple "prize tracker" on her refrigerator to motivate her son toward diligence in his schoolwork. For every day he does his homework in a timely fashion, he takes one "step" toward a toy or other reward he's trying to earn.
Recharge and refocus together
The moments you have with your children each school day are limited. Take time to listen to them, asking about their day, their friends, their ongoing stories. Eat dinner together as a family as often as you can. Take breaks from schoolwork to ride bikes or play catch together.
As you connect with your children, you'll discover fresh opportunities to reframe the day, to help them see their experiences through the lens of God's truth and love. Can they see an annoying classmate as someone to reach out to? Can they see that a difficult teacher is an opportunity to learn and respect those in authority? What‘s the difference between being kind to a friend and being her doormat?
Big-picture wisdom, a listening ear and meaningful time spent together can go a long way toward redeeming the after-school frenzy for your children. And perhaps just as important, it helps them have a better attitude about starting over the next day.